By the age of 10 or so, I was already a keen enough Beatles fan to be able to decipher the era of the song and which of them was singing.
In our home, the radio was always on. In the bedrooms, in the kitchen, on the deck and in the car — which, I believe, is where I first heard Some Sing Some Dance by Michel Pagliaro. Except I thought I was hearing something by George Harrison.
I heard the song every once in a while for a few years, but I never managed to figure out who it was. Not only did it sound uncannily like Harrison, but it was also an instant hit with me. I love everything about that song, every second of it. The chord changes and melody, the performance and phrasing just light me up. It’s an incredible melody. Perfect pop.
Maybe the Harrison/Beatles vibe comes from the fact that it was recorded — at least partially — at Apple Studios in the basement of 3 Savile Row.
I recently got a nice copy of the 1971 self-titled Pagliaro LP he recorded in London. I got it because of his bigger hit, Lovin’ You Ain’t Easy. I honestly didn’t know Some Sing Some Dance was on it — not that it would have mattered, because I didn’t know the name of the song. I just knew the song. So, when I was spinning my new acquisition and it came to Track 2 on the second side… I was like, “Ohhh. It was Pagliaro!” Now I know. Now I finally own it, too. It really is Beatlesesque — lots of Pag’s music from that era was. But it’s not just because he was trying to sound like them; it’s because he was just that clever. He isn’t copying them, he’s coming from the same place. So I got thinking about other songs I like which could easily be mistaken as something by the (or at least one of the) Beatles.
Let’s start with another one which I thought was a Beatle track when I first heard it as a kid — Time Passages by Al Stewart.
In this case, it’s not the music or production that threw me, it’s the voice — particularly the phrasing and diction. I loved this song as a kid, and was pretty sure it was John Lennon. It was a huge hit in 1978 and was a radio mainstay for several years, just as Lennon was in the midst of his five-year parental leave from the music business. Maybe I’m the only one who mistook it for Lennon. I was a weird kid.
Meantime, the rest of the world was busy mistaking Canadian band Klaatu for The Beatles. A music review, months after the release of their 1976 debut album, 3:47 EST, floated the notion that Klaatu could easily be The Beatles — secretly reunited and going by a fake name. This was further supported by the fact there were no photos of the band members on the sleeve and all the songs were credited simply to Klaatu. The name comes from the humanoid alien character in the 1951 sci-fi classic The Day The Earth Stood Still, a still of which Ringo Starr used as the cover of his atrocious 1974 album Goodnight Vienna.
Personally, I don’t think the album’s big hit Calling Occupants of Interplanetary Craft, sounds anything like The Beatles. It does sound incredibly English, though — especially for a couple of dudes from Toronto. To my ear, Klaatu sound more like Badfinger.
So why not talk about Badfinger? They were one of the first acts signed to Apple, and had a big hit with Come And Get It, a Beatles demo written by Paul McCartney. Obviously it sounds pretty Beatley. They only recorded one album physically at Apple Studios, though — 1973’s Ass, produced by Chris Thomas and Todd Rundgren.
Vocalist Pete Ham can sound an awful lot like McCartney at times, but where I really hear Beatles overtones are on songs like this, from 1972’s Straight Up. The descending guitar lead guitar refrains are more than a little reminiscent of the Abbey Road medley, particularly You Never Give Me Your Money.
Here’s one you may not have heard before, The Wackers. This American band came to Canada — specifically an early version of the famed, makeshift 24-track Le Studio when it was still located in Montreal — to make their sophomore album Hot Wacks. Leader Bob Segarini actually decided to stay in Canada and called Toronto home until his death in July. Hot Wacks is a fantastic record, and includes a brilliant cover of Lennon’s tender Oh My Love, from the Imagine album. Anyway, I’m pretty sure you’ll hear Mean Mr. Mustard overtones in this:
There should be no mistaking Electric Light Orchestra for The Beatles, but you might be forgiven if their hit Mr. Blue Sky not only gets stuck in your head, but also gets the middle section from A Day In The Life stuck there as well. Mr. Blue Sky starts with the same piano intro as Good Day Sunshine, and the same message, but at a tempo quite like the McCartney mid-section of A Day In The Life — “woke up, got out of bed, dragged a comb across my head.” In fact, you can sing the McCartney lines overtop of Mr. Blue Sky. They match up perfectly, and there’s even a huffy breathing part in each:
A Day In The Life: “Found my way downstairs and drank a cup. And looking up, I noticed I was late (huh huh huh).”
Mr. Blue Sky: “Runnin’ down the avenue (huh huh huh). See how the sun shines brightly.”
Lots of folks say Harry Nilsson sounds like McCartney on Gotta Get Up, but I don’t hear it. Sounds more like Billy Joel to me. Far more McCartney-like is Emitt Rhodes, especially his first, self-recorded-at-home album from 1970.
In 1976, Wings were one of the biggest acts in the world. They had a new studio album and were about to release the triple live set Wings Over America after a blockbuster tour of the States. Somewhere beneath those Wings, a little U.S. rock band called Flamin’ Groovies decided to remodel sound and make their long-awaited fourth album a throwback British powerpop effort. Shake Some Action has a number of tracks which one could easily mistake for an unfamiliar track from Beatles For Sale.
I’ve only ever had the most casual interest in The Rutles — Eric Idle and Neil Innes’ Beatles parody band and film. But what made The Rutles popular wasn’t just humour. Their music was, at times, very convincing. In fact, Innes got sued by The Beatles’ publishing company in 1978 for copyright infringement. It seems insane, but Innes actually had to accept an out-of-court settlement to share half the royalties from each of the self-titled Rutles album’s 14 songs. The actual Beatles were mostly fans of the Rutles mockuemtary and album — especially Harrison. Lennon definitely was as well, and even tried to help Innes avoid a lawsuit by suggesting one Rutles song, Get Up And Go, was too similar to Get Back. Innes left it off the album — but still got sued.
When it comes to Beatles soundalikes, you have to mention Lennon’s elder son Julian. When Valotte came out, man, we were all gobsmacked. Last year Julian performed a cover of Imagine for the first time as a Ukraine benefit. The man is 60 — 20 years older than his dad was when he was assassinated in 1980. He doesn’t sound as much like John as he used to; we’re kind of into uncharted territory with the Lennon voice. This one always gives me chills — his 1985 cover of Because by The Dave Clark Five.
They refer to it as the British Invasion — the onslaught of Beatles-like or Mersey Sound groups being pushed on North American audiences to capitalize on the popularity of The Beatles. But there were plenty of domestic groups ready to get a piece of the pie as well. The Knickerbockers were from New Jersey, despite the fact that their name is slang for someone from Manhattan. In 1965 they had a minor hit with their song Lies, which is one of the most-mistaken-for-a-Beatles-song song ever.
Finally, HERE‘s a fun (though old) blog which dives deep into the world of fake Beatles material.
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Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.